Over the last four years, Congress and the Obama administration have only enacted laws that have deregulated gun use in America. It’s no secret why. As pundits love to note, the gun lobby is incredibly influential. But as we consider the potential for reform in the wake of the tragedy today, one of the first questions we should ask this time is: who does the gun lobby really represent?
The National Rifle Association portrays itself as an organization that represents “4 million members” who simply love the Second Amendment. The truth is much more murky.
In reality, the NRA is composed of half a dozen legal entities; some designed to run undisclosed attack ads in political campaigns, others to lobby and collect tens of millions in undisclosed, tax-deductible sums. This power has only been enhanced in the era of Citizens United, with large GOP donors in the last election reportedly funneling money to the NRA simply to use the group as a brand to pummel Democrats with nasty ads. (As The Huffington Post’s Peter Stone reported, even the Koch network now provides an undisclosed amount to the NRA.)
Despite the grassroots façade, there is much evidence to suggest that corporations that profit from unregulated gun use are propping up the NRA’s activities, much like how the tobacco lobby secretly funded “Smokers Rights’” fronts and libertarian anti-tax groups, or how polluters currently finance much of the climate change skepticism movement.
In a “special thanks” to their donors, the National Rifle Association Foundation lists Bushmaster Firearms Inc., the company that makes the assault rifle reportedly found with the shooter responsible for the mass murder today in Newtown, Connecticut. How much Bushmaster Firearms Inc. (a firm now known as Windham) contributes is left unsaid.
The Violence Policy Center has estimated that since 2005, gun manufacturers have contributed up to $38.9 million to the NRA. Those numbers, however, are based on publicly listed “sponsorship” levels on NRA fundraising pamphlets. The real figures could be much bigger. Like Crossroads GPS or Americans for Prosperity, or the Sierra Club for that matter, the NRA does not disclose any donor information even though it spends millions on federal elections.
And like other industry fronts, the NRA is quick to conceal its pro–gun industry policy positions as ideological commitments.
Take, for example, “The NRA Civil Rights Defense Fund.” It’s a pro–gun rights legal fund “involved in court cases establishing legal precedents in favor of gun owners.”
And who helps pick which impact-litigation cases the NRA will become involved with? Folks like James W. Porter II, a board member of the NRA Civil Rights Defense Fund, who doubles as an attorney whose private firm specializes in “areas of products liability defense of firearms manufacturers.” His last client, according to a search of the federal court docket, was Smith & Wesson Corporation.
Is the NRA working for casual gun-owners, many of whom, according to polling, support tougher restrictions on gun ownership— or is the NRA serving the gunmaker lobby— which is purely interested in policies that will promote greater gun sales and more profits? Any gun control policy debate should begin with this question.
The NRA never walks alone. Read John Nichols on ALEC's efforts to thwart honest gun policy debate.